Now available on DVD
Ted Vernon as Corbin
Michael David Simms as Curry
Richard Vidan as Jack
Kristina Sanborn as Roxanne
Victoria Christian as Kellie
David James Campbell as Al
B.J. Turner as Bert
Dax Vernon as Dax
Tony Santory as Jakob Fowler
Phil Zenderland as Norman Fowler
Mike Balog as Benjamin Fowler
Directed by William Wesley
The phrase “underrated” gets thrown around rather easily these days, and rare is it to find a film that truly defines the term. In an era when the collective boogeymen of horror films comprised of masked slashers, dream killers and demons sent from hell to dish out punishment for oneâs sexual predilections, 1988’s “Scarecrows” definitely stands out as one of the more different and better horror entries from that decade. Unfortunately, it was hardly recognized as such while a certain character named “Fred Krueger” was slicing up the box office competition. And in our current era of torture themed horror, mediocre sequels and terrible remakes, the MGM DVD release of this genuinely creepy horror flick is a much welcomed treat.
Written and directed by William Wesley (with dialogue contributions by Marcus Crowder, Stephen Gerard, Richard Jefferies and Larry Stamper) the storyline, which seems far more rooted in the world EC Comics than the horror trends of the period, is fairly simple: A group of ex-military thieves pull off a $3 million dollar heist, then kidnap a pilot and his daughter to fly them to Mexico under the cover of night. However, all goes awry when one of their clan decides to go D.B. Cooper and parachute from the airplane with the cash over desolate farmland. Obviously, his cohorts aren’t willing to let him escape that easily and give chase. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse as the thieves try to hunt down their treacherous coconspirator. But it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems on this deserted farm and the hunters have in fact become the hunted as they are stalked by dozens of grotesque scarecrows who take their job seriously and don’t take kindly to the intrusion.
What could easily devolve into a paint-by-numbers stalk and chase, slice and dice horror pic is actually handled quite well by director Wesley as he makes the most of the night time farmland setting and creates excellent moments of suspense and mystery. The man knows how to shoot a horror film and it’s a shame he hasn’t done much beyond an episode of the anthology show “Monsters” in 1991 and the forgettable 2001 flick “Route 666.”
The performances here aren’t great but fairly solid, far better than the average direct to DVD or Sci-Fi Channel pic. Wesley shies away from anything resembling character development, but that’s okay as this story doesn’t require it and it’s not missed, the plot working quite well with character “types,” not unlike classic situational disaster pics such as “The Towering Inferno” or “Poseidon Adventure.” The characters are simply who they are and act accordingly.
Wesley also gets kudos for not explaining too much. While recent remakes and prequels of horror classics have sought to tell us the origins of evil, the fact that Wesley never really explains what the scarecrows are is much appreciated. While theories are thrown about by the characters, their origins remain ambiguous and leave the viewer something to ponder.
There’s plenty of wet work once the film finally gets going and it’s handled rather seamlessly by Norman Cabrera who would later go on to join the Academy Award winning KNB Effects team formed by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger.
Unfortunately, the DVD itself is a bit of a disappointment. While the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is crisp and shows off the mood inducing work of cinematographer Peter (“From Hell”) Demming, the 5.1 soundtrack can only be described as adequate as it’s not very deep. Having grown up in rural farmland, there are many suspense inducing sounds in the night and you don’t really feel it here. But, there may not have been much to work with either. And given this film has spawned many imitators, most notably the 2004 films “Dead Birds” and “Malevolence,” some form of feature commentary by William Wesley and Peter Demming would have been interesting to hear. But, alas, there are no special features to be found. Not even a trailer.
Still, given the fact that “Scarecrows” is a true underrated film languishing in obscurity for nineteen years and garnering only a small cult following, one has to be glad it was given the DVD treatment at all. Which means I can finally put my well worn VHS copy to rest. RIP…you served me well.